Writing Craft Vol. 3: How Real is the Story & Story Openings

We are back to Writing Craft Volume 3! Apologies – work went nuts after my boss got fired, and then *I* got laid off! Aieee! But the real reason is that I struggle to be confident about my writing techniques. As one does. 

Welcome to new folks! Let me know if you need anything or have questions. 

How real is the story?

How you describe the story should tell the reader how real the story is, whether it is clearly fantastical, straightforwardly realistic, or bends the rules somewhere in the middle.

Even when you’re writing stories set in the “real” world, you’ll need to tell the reader a few things.

It’s important to define some rules around what the reader can expect, and it’s important to set those rules inside the narrative itself. This helps set expectations so the reader knows what to expect from the story. The “reality” of a comedic story is much different than a tragic one!

You need to tell the reader:

  • What genre the story is
  • How realistic the story is, in general
  • What particular type of reality to expect

Tell the reader about the realities of your story early and often. This will happen in two main places: your story openings and “setting check-ins.”

Story Openings

Definitely tell the reader within the first 150 words of the story (that is, the first page of a printed book) what kind of story they’re getting into!

What do you need to tell the reader?

  • What genre and/or subgenre the story is
  • What tone the story will have

You can either tell the reader directly what type of story to expect or you can hint.

Either way, this information has to be in the story itself (not just the title, cover, or any other not-story information).

Once a reader’s story-brain gets running, only the information inside the story counts! When you’re reading a good book, the rest of the world goes away. If the reader has to check the cover or title to figure out what type of story they’re reading, then you, the author, have made them leave the story.

Don’t do that!

Instead, use your point of view character’s (or narrator’s) voice to give all important information.

Include information about the reality of the story as follows: have the character describe, interact with, or remember one element of the setting that demonstrates that genre and tone.

Let’s say you’re writing a story with dragons. Have your character describe, interact with, or remember something about dragons.

If the dragons are essential to your plot and there would be no story without the dragons, make sure to put them in the first sentence or two! If they’re important but not the most important thing in the story, make sure they’re hinted at in the first 150 words.

If you’re writing a comedic story about dragons, have your character say something funny about dragons—or upsetting, if you’re writing a tragic story.

If you’re not sure what the most important elements of your story are, then start with your genre or a trope that exists within your genre.

Some examples:

  • Romance: falling in love or obstacles that prevent falling in love.
  • Mystery: a crime or something that triggers curiosity in the character.
  • Horror: death, hurt, or depression.

Here are some example opening lines:


When Crystal had been a child, she’d loved the apple blossoms in the orchard on her family’s estate.

As a young woman, she had soon learnt that her gentlemen callers saw her as a blossom, one that would begin to wilt and fade as soon as she was plucked.


On Tuesday I had my last massage at work.

The masseuse, Crystal, always shared juicy updates about her life. Recently she’d found out that her trailer had termites and the floor had to be replaced. The contractor she’d hired—an old friend—was trying to stiff her out of some money.


Crystal looked out at the sunset, waves lapping at the aluminum boat dock. She was getting a migraine. A speck of floating distortion was spreading across her vision. She rubbed her eyes. Time to go home, before it got bad.

One spot refused to budge, a black blob in the water that seemed to follow her as she walked along the dock, heading for her car.

The opening lines of your story don’t have to be particularly memorable in order to be good. They just have to drag the reader into the story!

Make sure the first few lines of your story include your genre and tone, as told through the perspective of your main character or a narrator that the reader wants to spend time with.

(Unless you’re writing a prologue, but we’ll cover that later.)

If you want to hint at a surprise in the story, have the character mention some element related to that surprise, but be wrong about the cause.

If you don’t plan ahead on plot, write the same type of opening. Just keep in mind that the character is probably wrong about something.

(Next up: Setting check-ins and prologues! Yes, you CAN have a prologue, if you do it right!)

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